Thursday, October 21, 2021

It’s Warm Where I’m Going

    I watched Mother’s funeral Mass on YouTube Wednesday. (One blessing that’s come out of the pandemic is access to events from afar.) It felt strange to be at home, watching and listening as people spoke about Mother, seeing the photo of her with Dad, taking in the small (so small) brown box of her ashes. She had belonged to her parish for more than 20 years, was well known and well liked there. The priest spoke warmly, from long acquaintanceship. But there is one thing he said - or didn’t say, rather - that needs to be added to the record.

    Every winter for many years, Mother would go to my sister Janet’s house in December and, in January, she would come to Texas with Janet and her husband Dave, who snow-birded in Port Aransas. They’d stop at our house on their way and drop Mother off with Michael and I for a month or so. What a joy for me to have those weeks with her and share her with my friends over the years.

    The priest mentioned her trips to Grand Forks and Texas when he spoke about Mother. He said he could never understand why someone would leave Montana in the winter and go to Grand Forks. (FYI - that’s in North Dakota.) He used to tease her about it after her last Mass the weekend she would leave with Janet and Dave. He remarked on her Grand Forks trips laughingly at the funeral, but he forgot to share the rest of the story. 

    Every year when he teased Mother about it, she always replied, “It’s warm where I’m going.” You see, Mother was never just going to Grand Forks, which is indeed a frigid place in winter. No, she was going home, literally, to the place she raised her family, because she was going home with Janet, who lives in the house my parents built more than 50 years ago. She was going home to the community where she earned her degrees and taught school. She was going home to share fond memories with her many friends of  bridge club and Altar Society and PTA, of the cocktail parties her generation made famous and the gourmet dinners that often followed them. 

    I felt sad not to be at her Mass in person, but there will be another service next summer that I will attend, when our extended family gathers in Mandan, North Dakota to inter her ashes next to my Dad’s. We’ll laugh and remember and tell stories to each other and to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about this wonderful woman who raised us. It’ll be warm there, too.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

 Obituary for Jeanne Paul Gustafson

Jeanne (Paul) Gustafson, beloved matriarch of her large family, died peacefully on October 12 at the age of 99 at her home in Helena, MT surrounded by family. She was born in Edgeley, ND to Donald and Florence (Petrie) Paul on August 29, 1922, the oldest of five children. 

Jeanne attended college at NDSU for two years, then left school to marry Arthur Gustafson.  During their 60+ years of marriage, they raised seven children together while living in Grand Forks, ND. Jeanne devoted many years to her family. Besides being a loving wife and attentive mother, Jeanne was a talented seamstress, expert bridge player, and excellent cook. 

When her youngest child started school, Jeanne returned to college at UND. She earned a degree in elementary education, then went on to earn her master’s degree. She was on the dean’s list every semester and graduated with honors. Jeanne taught for 15 years before retiring, first at St. Michael’s Catholic school in Grand Forks and then at St. Joseph Catholic School in Mandan. Primarily a first grade teacher, Jeanne could proudly say that every child she taught learned how to read.

Jeanne and Arthur lived in Escondido, CA for many years after retirement before they relocated to Helena, MT. In retirement, Jeanne began quilting. Over the next 30 years, she designed and hand-quilted more than a hundred stunning quilts that are cherished by her family, including more than four dozen crib quilts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Jeanne was preceded in death by her parents; her four siblings; her husband; her son, John and his wife, Jean; and her grandson, Stephen. She is survived by six children, Paul (Ann), Mark (Judi), Lane Devereux (Michael), James (LuAnne), Janet Weisgram (David), and Robert (Lynn). Jeanne has 19 surviving grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren.

A funeral mass for Jeanne will be held at Our Lady of the Valley on October 20 at 11:00 A.M. Interment will take place in Mandan, ND at a later date.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Saying Goodbye to My Mother

 I just said goodbye to my Mother, who is 1800 miles away, unresponsive and no longer eating or drinking. The hospice staff said that unresponsive people can still hear and understand, so my sister-in-law held the phone to her ear while I said my last words to her. Mother is 99 and this turn of events isn't unexpected, but I am still hurting. I saw her in May and she was in good shape. Michael and I had a lovely time with her. I have no unresolved issues with my Mother, no conflicts or remnants of past problems to cloud our relationship. For that I am thankful.

She started her decline over the summer, getting fuzzier about events and information, eating less and less. She held up her end of a telephone conversation fine as recently as two weeks ago, although she would sometimes respond to a question with "Now that's hard to know." She lost interest in food last winter. She has weighed about 145 pounds for a long time (a nice weight for her), but when we saw her in May she was down to 125 pounds, and now she only weighs 80. She will probably be gone in the next 24 hours. 

I made plane and hotel reservations to visit her in Helena in mid-November. I'll be cancelling them, of course, but I can't bring myself to do it until Mother is actually dead. My brother who is in charge of the details of her passing asked me to write her obituary a few months ago. I did, but it was hard. After she passes, I'll post her obit. She was a remarkable women and I'd like everyone to know it.

Mother wanted to live to be 100 and I wish she had. She came damn close. If there is a Heaven, she'll be in it soon, hopefully with my Dad by her side.